Since we’re all currently in the middle of probably the biggest global crisis since World War 2, many folks in my social timeline are posting/sharing their work from home (WFH) pictures. Whenever I share mine, I always feel like I need to explain the tidiness of it all, because my workspace is one area in my life where I do try to keep things in place.
This picture was literally taken at the end of my morning session of work, during my first coffee break. I left the plate and the coffee cup in the picture to prove it.
Besides a few extra items on the desk (that are only here because I’m currently working from home, my battery powered screwdriver, two remotes needed for this office, my running headphones, a few charging adapters, and some extra batteries) this is how I prefer to keep my area of work at all times. I can’t abide an untidy work area, as any clutter that gathers up gets in my way and makes me less productive.
While the space around me not be as tidy (either my office, or currently the garage) I try to keep my desk as a bastion of clarity, almost like it’s a safe haven amongst the madness that is every day life.
What about you, are you a fellow ‘desk neat freak’ or do you feel your workspace should be as comfortable and/or chaotic as your life is. Hit me up in the comments, ideally with pictures, if you’d like to share.
It all started, effectively 2 years ago, with this tweet.
I’m not sure when I started following Brent on Twitter, but he posts interesting stuff about Laravel and PHP, and I’ve learned a bunch from his blog. Sometime last year he tweeted this and as I dug deeper into the conversation, I realised something. I had, up until a few years ago, been a strong proponent of light themes.
But somewhere along the line, I was tempted by the dark side.
I can’t remember exactly when it happened, but it was recent, since about 2016 or so, that I switched my PHPStorm IDE from a light to a dark theme. I think it was when I first installed the Material Theme, and it defaulted to a dark theme. I’m not sure if I kept it because it was better, or because I was lead to believe it was better, but I’d been using it ever since.
Over the past weekend, I upgraded my workstation to the latest Ubuntu release and one of the new features of the OS is a built in dark theme, so I tried it, and hated it.
On Sunday (exactly 2 years on from the original tweet!) I was thinking about this, and I realised that there are only two places that have a dark theme; my terminal, and my IDE. Everything else I use daily has a light theme. My text editor, my Slack instance, even my browser, is using a light theme. And I got to thinking that every time I’ve tried a new dark theme (in Ubuntu, Slack, Twitter) I’ve hated it. So why am I keeping to a dark theme in the two applications I probably use the most, after Slack and my browser.
So I decided to try an experiment. I switched PHPStorm back to the IntelliJ light theme, I switched my terminal to a light theme (Tango light), and I gave it a day to see if it made a difference.
It’s now been two days like this, and I’m surprised to find that I have not noticed any negative differences. In fact, I’ve found the text in PHPStorm and my terminal more easy to read, and therefore it feels like I comprehend what’s happening quicker. As I’ve always kept my monitor brightness and contrast settings low, it appears I’ve actually been working in a sub optimal way now, for at least 3 years!
Over the course of the past 4 years I’ve experimented with a bunch of different local development environments for my freelance client work. I started with Scotch Box, transitioned to Boss Box, and finally back to bare bones LAMP, mostly because I develop on Ubuntu and I find Apache2 to be an easier web server to configure than nginx. The final addition of mkcert (generating locally trusted SSL certificates) rounded up my local development environment requirements.
The only thing missing was an automated way to provision a new site. As I explain the mkcert article, spinning up a new site requires a few steps I have to follow each time.
create new Apache VirtualHost config files
create a new database
create a client directory in my local sites directory
add a record to my /etc/hosts file
create the SSL certs
restart the Apache2 webserver
And then I have to do the reverse when I want to delete a site.
So I decided to put these commands together in two sitesetup and sitedrop bash scripts.
To install these scripts to your local workstation, download the separate files, edit the HOME_USER, SSL_CERTS_DIRECTORY, and SITES_DIRECTORY variables at the top to match your local setup, make them executable, and copy them to your /usr/local/bin/ directory.
This question, along with “How do I find clients/work?”, is probably the question I get asked the most from folks starting their freelance journey. And then when I tell them what I charge (or used to charge before I started working full-time at Castos), they respond with shock, as it’s usually triple what they were expecting. So this post is a short summary of links which explain my response to that question.
For personal reasons I don’t tend to publish my year in review or new year goals posts any more. As I start the year, something that I’ve had on my mind since forever was the idea of recording a development related course of some kind.
Here are some of the reasons I want to put some time into building some courses in 2020.
I like sharing knowledge with others.
I enjoy the process of building content around specific topics.
I like to look at areas that are niche/not popular, but necessary, and build content around them.
I’d like to find a way to monetize that somehow, to cover the time spent.
I find I also learn more about the thing I’m presenting.
At the end of last year I asked some folks online which subjects they felt were missing from the world of WordPress plugin development courses. After gathering the ideas, I started this year by asking my Twitter timeline to vote on what the first course should be.
The winner was Automated testing for your WordPress plugin, which to be honest was a) the course I wanted to create first any way and b) the one I think the world of WordPress plugin development needs the most right now. So here we are.
I’ve started sketching out the basic outline of what I think the course should contain, and I’m posting it here to gather some feedback. As I think about it some more, and start putting the course-ware together, I’m sure I’ll add to this list, but I want to get some community feedback, in case I miss anything.
If you’re interested in learning about writing tests for your WordPress plugin, please feel free to comment on what I’ve already included, what you would like to see, or anything else you feel should be included.
If you’d like to keep updated about the course and it’s development, or when it launches, please enter your email and hit subscribe below.
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WordPress Plugin Automated Testing course notes:
The project – the example plugin we’ll be using to write tests for
MailChimp sign up form
Posts to MailChimp API
Tools – the tools we’ll be learning about
WordPress recommended version vs latest stable version
WordPress Plugin scaffolding
Installing the tools
Phpunit.xml config file
Command line vs IDE setup
Writing your first test
The “adding tests to a legacy codebase” conundrum
Action and filter hooks
Testing your methods/functions
Testing against the database
Does the built in WordPress unit tests allow for mocks?
As the year comes to a close, and I sit here in the small town of Wilderness, drinking my last beer of 2019, and watching the last fire of 2019 burn down, I contemplate the past 20 years of my life. 20 years ago (at around this time) I was a lost 22 year old, with little to no direction or career to speak of, recovering from an extremely toxic relationship/break up, wishing, as I often had done in the past, for it all to just end.
How such a small period of time as 20 years has changed all of that.
In the 20 years since that night, I met the love of my life, obtained my national diploma in programming, stumbled into the world of web development, got married, purchased a house, had two children, ran (and sold) a family business, opened a jiu jitsu club, travelled to Europe twice and lost and gained more friends along the way than I can count. If you had stopped by 20 years ago and told me all this was possible, I would have swore you were crazy.
So here’s to 2020 and the next 20 years being as action packed as the last 20 were.
It’s been just over two years since I moved into my current office space, and just over a year since I last wrote about it. As my two major hobbies outside of my work as a developer are jiu-jitsu (which not many folks can relate to), and computer hardware and peripheral upgrades (which most can at least understand) I thought it might be interesting to look back at what changes I’ve made in the tools I use every day, over the last year.
Last year I posted a review of how my workspace had changed over the 2 years since I left employment and become a freelance developer. It included this image of what my desk looks like, with a short run down of everything you see (and don’t see) in the picture.
Today, just over a year later, there have been some small but important changes.
So besides the less bright lighting (more on that later), the more keen of eye among you will have noticed some subtle differences.
Firstly, my peripheral monitors have changed. I was able to pick up a newer Samsung and Dell 24 inch monitor, so now all three screens are LED powered, and the two side monitors are more uniform. I’ve definitely noticed the difference in the visual quality improvement in making sure all three monitors are LED, I no longer feel like I’m having to adjust my eyes when I switch between the different screens.
The other major changes are in peripherals, I’ve replaced the Logitech headseat with a Sennheiser HD 280 Pro studio set, and replaced the short mic stand with a proper desk mounted arm. This allows me better use of my screens and keyboard when I’m in online meetings or recording podcasts (which I’ve not done as much as I’d like to in 2019)
I also treated myself to a Sparkfox Atlas Wireless Bluetooth Controller. This is a great little gaming controller, which I can use connected via a USB cable or via Bluetooth, works on both Windows and Ubuntu and has a very similar layout to an XBox controller.
Finally, as I noted earlier, I’ve switched from using the oppressing overhead florescent lights to a smaller lamp which sits behind the left screen. It gives off just enough light for me to see the things I need, without making my eyes water during the day.
While my workstation has only undergone a few external changes over the course of the last year, I eventually decided it was time for a new laptop this year.
I usually try and use a laptop for at least 4-5 years before replacing it. I’d been mostly happy with the performance of the Dell Inspiron gaming laptop I’d purchased at the end of 2017, but I ended up doing more conferences and therefore travel in 2019 than I had done previously, and two things became clear. First, the laptop and bulky, ungainly charger became heavy when carrying them around a lot, and second, the battery only held around a 4 hour charge.
I’ve always been partial to Dells, and the Dell XPS 15 seemed the logical choice. However, an online friend had recently purchased an Asus Zenbook, and was raving about it.
After researching the differences in price and hardware between the two, and reading a bunch of online reviews, I ended up purchasing the Asus Zenbook UX533FD, and I couldn’t be happier.
It’s super light, has a 10 hour battery life, runs the latest Ubuntu (after a bios update), and is powerful enough that I feel as productive using the laptop as I do on the desktop. At the same time, I also upgraded my laptop mouse to the Logitech M720 Triathlon, the big brother of the Marathon mouse I use on my workstation, and it’s a great wireless addition to the laptop.
The bleeding edge of operating systems.
The other big change I made at the tail end of this year was upgrading both my laptop and workstation OS to the latest version of Ubuntu, 19.10, codenamed Eoan Ermine. I typically only run the latest LTS version on my workstation, and whatever is the latest release on my laptop, but the 19.10 release is so slick, stable and fast that I had to install it on the workstation. I was actually feeling left behind whenever I switched from laptop to PC.
Looking ahead, I don’t think there will be much I will change in 2020, as I’ve pretty much got my perfect set up. But who knows, upgrading computers is the one hobby I do tend to like to spend money on, so I can’t make any promises.
Last night I gave a talk at the Cape Town PHP Meetup introducing the concepts of testing an existing Laravel application. As I did not have time to prepare slides, here are the links to the relevant items I discussed in the talk.
It’s a funny old world. Over the course of the past few years I’ve seen a lot of people take a step back from contributing to WordPress, and I never thought I would get there. But here I am, writing about taking exactly such a break.
When I joined the WordPress community back in early 2016, it was the first global tech community I’d ever actively joined. Like the first time you learn to ride a bike, all I wanted to do was be part of this amazing thing and do as much of it as I could. Now, just 3 years later, I feel burned out and disillusioned as to what my purpose in this community really is.
Don’t get me wrong, the community is not the problem, just like riding a bike up and down your street is not the problem. But all it takes is one or two potholes, or an inconsiderate driver, and things soon take a turn for the worse.
Organising local events
I attended my first WordCamp in Cape Town in 2015, spoke at WordCamp Cape Town in 2016, lead the team for 2017 and 2018, and was part of the team again in 2019, and I need a break. I’d like to be able to attend my home town WordCamp as an attendee next year, without needing to rush from an interesting conversation to whatever next issue might need to be dealt with. I wish the 202o team all of the very best, and I’ll happily assist wherever I can, but not in an official organising capacity.
I will also be taking a step back in organising our local meetup. Fortunately one of our members has joined the meetup organising team, and if she’s as good at organising meetups as she was running Logistics for WCCT 2019, we’re in good hands. I’ll still happily help the team plan events, liase with sponsors and find speakers, but it will be great to share the load of hosting with the three currently active meetup organisers.
I’ve been a community team deputy for about 2 years now, and it’s been an amazing journey. For 2020 I will be taking a big step back from that team, to focus on the future of WP Notify, the notifications feature project I’ve been working on with other WordPress contributors, for the past few months. I think WP Notify is something that WordPress is desperately lacking, and I see it as an important part of moving WordPress into the future, so I want to spend all my core contribution time focused on that.
Speaker diversity training.
Besides WP Notify, my other big goal for 2020 is to do what I can to support the Speaker Diversity Training programme grow and flourish within our local community. Deb Butler has already dedicated herself to launching this training programme, and I want to do whatever I can to assist her.
I am hoping that this break from all of the many volunteer things I, knowingly, get myself into, and a focus on only one or two, will help me redefine my purpose and feel some of that joy I first had back in 2016.